Archive for the 'This & That' Category

New Universe

This evening Y Combinator opened up applications for its Summer 2010 round, marking what will be the fifth anniversary of the program, which has funded 171 startups to date. This round is bringing an important change: the program calendar has been moved up by a month, which means that startups will find out if they’ve been accepted at nearly the same time that they’ll hear back from competing programs like TechStars and DreamIt Ventures.

Interesting. YC is essentially a parallel university with its own faculty, (borrowed) dormitories, and in-house curriculum. It was explicitly set up to target college-aged kids who were more ambitious than their CS courses. The model proved so successful that it attracted copycats and, not only that, but the copycats are also successful. So much so that they are clearly starting to pull talent from the first-mover, and YC doesn’t like that.

Now YC is pushing up the announcement date of their incoming class so that this whole segment of youth-oriented VC is now basically right back where it started: YC may have started as a new school, but now it has inadvertently given birth to a whole new university system.

From 2000 To 350: Two Numbers

Mathematical Graffiti

One thing we did not intend to do in 2009, but did: visit South America.

One thing we intended to do in 2009 but did not: write this post about the bookend numbers of the decade. A small observation.

The first decade of the 21st century started with Y2K and ended with 350 – two expressions of our fear that the collective technological creations of humanity will also be our destruction.

As a lingering concern from the tail end of the 20th century, we entered 02000 affraid that the computer systems running everything from our stoplights to medical devices would call it quits as their internal clocks reset from 99 to 00. People stockpiled food, escaped to remote areas, and there was a collective holding of breath as we stepped into that unknown territory together. By the end of January 1, 2000 fears of massive computer meltdown had already dissipated and “Y2K” was thrown out with the party favors from the night before.

December 12 2009: World leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss an international treaty that would limit the presence of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere by establishing a cap of 350 parts per million. At the end of the decade we were again confronted with the unexpected consequences of human progress.

Although the possible disaster that was Y2K fizzled quickly, all informed parties agree that 350 is a much more menacing number that we are not likely to escape. I’ll remember the decade as a transition from 2000 to 350, a persistent fear of technocollapse concretized into two essential numbers. Hopefully 350 won’t become this decade’s Y2K, forgotten as soon as it’s widely recognized as a problem.

Breakfast of Champions

Since I haven’t had the presence of mind to post anything that would fall into the typical pail, perhaps the world may find this recipe useful. It may be one of the biggest accomplishments of my adulthood thus far (and all I did was rip it off from the Roebling Tea Toom in Brooklyn).

Be warned, this is so good your face may explode:

1. Preheat oven to 350ish
2. Make yourself some french toast batter
3. Soak some bread in the batter till it’s nice and soggy
4. Stuff one the bread, slice by slice, into the spots on a muffin pan
5. Top with a little pat of butter
6. Bake will delicious
7. Make some sauce with pears and bourbon

We’re Moving!

we’re moving!, originally uploaded by yusunkwon.

Much preferred this year’s art biennale over last year’s architecture showing. Not to be a broken record or anything, but seeing these two shows back-to-back demonstrated to me the lack of understanding that most architects seem to have of format.

The architects tended towards pavilions stuffed with hundreds of tiny things each invested with thousands of hours of work combined into a display of overwhelming masochism. All that effort for a throng that will never stop to investigate each piece with the level of attention it was made to capture. It’s just sad, really. Why treat the Biennale like a book or a symposium? Perhaps the crowning example of this were the video interviews interspersed throughout the Betsky-curated Arsenale. Does anyone really want to wade through a hall of spectacle to stop and listen to Thom Mayne talk about his theory of architecture? I am genuinely interested in what Mayne has to say, but not there.

For me, the best parts of last year’s architecture showing were those that treated the space as an installation like the Dutch and Japanese pavilions and the spaces in the Italian pavilion designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Jurgen Mayer, and Ball Nouges to name a few. These were simple, on the verge of one-liners, and designed — formatted — explicitly for the experience of the Biennale both in terms of site and time line. More like this next year, please.

A Few Zines

For any OTWAS readers in NYC this week, don’t miss the A Few Zines show/panel discussion which is opening on Thursday, January 8th. Mimi Zieger has revived loud paper for a very special broadsheet issue (which includes a submission from me that I’ll post here in a bit).

A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production
January 8-February 28, 2009

In the 1990s, zines such as Lackluster, Infiltration, loud paper, Dodge City Journal and Monorail subverted traditional trade and academic architecture magazine trends by crossing the built environment with art, music, politics and pop culture–and by deliberately retaining and cultivating an underground presence. Much has been made of that decade’s zine phenomenon–inspiring academic studies, international conferences and DIY workshops–yet little attention has been paid to architecture zine culture specifically, or its resonance within architectural publishing today.

A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production does both. Rather than attempting to present an exhaustive retrospective of architecture zine culture, it highlights complete runs of several noted zines that began in the nineties. The exhibition also features contemporary publications that continue to draw inspiration from the self-publishing tradition, such as Pin-Up, Sumoscraper, and Thumb.

To launch this exhibit, curator Mimi Zeiger has published a new issue of loud paper and organized a party and panel discussion, including:
Luke Bulman, Thumb
Felix Burrichter, Pin-Up
Stephen Duncombe, NYU professor and author of Dream and Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture
Andrew Wagner, Dodge City Journal and currently, American Craft
Mimi Zeiger, loud paper

Moderated by Kazys Varnelis, AUDC

When: Thursday, January 8, 2009, 6:30 pm (updated time!)
Free and open to the public

Studio-X, 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610, New York, NY 10014

Exhibition hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6pm
[Studio-X is a downtown studio for experimental research and design run by the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University.]

Manageable Horizons

Is JJ Abrams America’s next great landscape painter? As I’ve noted previously, his new show Fringe introduces typography as a landscape element – merging rendered letters into a seamless filmic space to erase the notion of a picture plane. In these urban views the type floats lightly but is still firmly in the world of the show rather than belonging to the world of the viewer, us, like typical titles glued to the vertical plane of the screen. The titles, our armature of interpretation, share a horizon with the world we’re viewing. We’re sucked in.

The trailer for Abram’s new Star Trek movie opens with views of a high speed chase. Big sky, wide horizon, palpable nostalgia? It’s the American West! But… what is that ghost on the skyline?


Complete with period car, this is what it would have been like to approach Corbu’s Ville Radieuse should Houston have decided to buy into his scheme when Paris passed.




Source: Star Trek trailer

The culmination of these spectral views is our first glimpse at the iconic Enterprise. The central figure arrives at the den of these spectres and the end of the world – the end of his world, literally – on his motorcycle. Technology delivers technology. Like the viewer who cannot escape the typography of Fringe, world and text merged into one, this sequence of images presents a typical Abramsonian connundrum: technology will always fail you, but you will only have more technology to help. Nature is just a backdrop; it’s literally a landscape and nothing more.

The game is one of horizons: showing and hiding them. Like the opening sequence of LOST, the horizon is collaged with technological fragments into a scene of techno-sublime before quickly being eclipsed by more, messier technology. Amidst the chaos of the introductory crash scene, Jack and the other characters scramble to cannibalize the scraps of the plane itself into useful survival tools. Technology has already subsumed nature. It’s inescapable (mysterious smoke? hatches?) – all you can hope to do is break these monolithic technologies into more manageable fragments and use those chunks to piece the world back together into something knowable, a world with horizons again.


Source: Lostpedia

I Live Here But I Voted There

If you’re an American who lives overseas, chances are someone in your host country has quizzed you about the election. Sometimes it even seems like the rest of the world cares more about this election that the US does, which is more of a sad commentary on the US electorate than anything else.

Still, plenty of Americans do care about who we elect as president and make the effort to vote. Some of those people, like myself, happen to be living overseas at the moment and thus we’re left out of all the fun. No lines, no trip to the random community center you’ve never visited before, no levers: voting absentee is pretty civilized and wonderful, actually. The only snag is that you don’t get a sticker, and everyone knows that the primary reason to vote is because some old lady will give you a sticker!

So, if you live overseas, you voted in the US election, and you have a color printer you can now rectify this small oversight.
single sticker.jpg
Click here to download an A4-sized sheet of stickers (it’s a 4mb PDF).

Section is the New Plan

Arguably, plan thinking is seeping into the general culture as services like google maps and vehicular GPS become inescapable. What about section? Do you think about your elevation? You will as soon as sea levels start rising!

Picture 2.png

Every now and then I get an itch to work on a web project again. After being egged on by John and Tim to take a look at Yahoo Pipes I decided to take a look. Pipes provides a visual interface for building connections between web services like Flickr and Yahoo Maps with the open ended ethos of the unix pipe command.

The screenshot above is showing a graph of the elevation of my life over the past few months: the heights of the various places I’ve spent time in. To create that graph, data is pulled from two separate websites (dopplr and, assembled by a third (bbcom), and drawn up nice and pretty by a fourth (Google’s mediocre viz API). This is exactly what I was talking about when I wrote about the infrastructural web last year. It’s glorious.

If you want to make your own graph you’ll need a Dopplr account with some trips in it and then take a visit to my site.

Picture 1.png
Above is a view of the Pipes interface. Look familiar?

Thanks to Dana for the name.

Fringe Architecture

Recently, Jimmy Stamp pointed out that the new TV series Fringe lifts a Liebeskind and places it in a new city, but actually there’s more going on here. The copy of the same pilot that I watched was missing the exterior establishing shot but did make use of Liebeskind’s interior as the offices of ominous corporation Massive Dynamic:



In the second episode, visits to Massive Dynamic find the corporation in a slightly different home. One with more curves and a distinctive gradient fritting pattern on the windows:


Shown from the outside, Massive Dynamic’s HQ reverts to something much more banal but turns out in the third episode to be Seven World Trade.



Jimmy makes a good point that this approach belies a general laziness on the behalf of the production designers who use collage instead of actually designing something. Without the bigger budget of a feature film we can perhaps excuse the show for not designing their own buildings, but did they really expect a show designed for detail obsessed nerds to accept a building that is clearly orthogonal from the exterior and billowing when seen on the interior? Not even Massive Dynamic can pull of that sort of trick.
What I’ve been enjoying most about Fringe is another bit of trickery: the way that the location titles are integrated into the space of the scenes using camera tracking and environment mapping. By adding motion to an old technique these titles gain a new sort of augmented-reality authority. They’re not real… right?

This, too, is part of our new way of seeing the world.





Goodbye, Flatland

Live action styrofoam sculpted by invisible wires, extreme sections, nonsense biomorphism, beton brut, and robotic greenery: this is the lush world of Peripetics, a 3 minute video piece produced by Zeitguised for the inaugural exhibition of the Zirkel Gallery in London.


The stills don’t do it justice: the film is remarkably engaging- an intricately Barney-esque, self-referential world where Vaseline has been replaced by shaders and deformers and the rules of this world are abandoned. The invisible is made visible and then rendered virtual though relentless applications of sectioning techniques.


These issues will be a recurring theme as advanced spatial conception seeps into our popular culture. With video games regularly asking players to turn up into down, solid into void and off-the-shelf rendering technology reaching a point of perfection, we are now sending fleets of astronauts into an unknown world beyond our own. Media addicts are seeing cutaways, three dimensional manipulation, data, and flocks of fluttering pixels inflate flatland with a new vitality that is not only aesthetic but structural. With hindsight, work like Peripetics may some day prove to be more than simply something pretty, it may prove be an early instrument that leads us to new worlds.

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